The learning begins

"You want to do what?" The Palmerston North Access programme co-ordinator named Rau Flavell was interviewing me and Carolyn to see whether we were eligible to do their te reo Maori course, Taha Maori, for six months and possibly the second level, Kete Hohonu.

She continued, "Ngahi you have a business degree and could easily get a job and you too Carolyn. You have worked in banks and hotels. Are you two sure you want to do our programme? You do realise these are full-time programmes for unemployed people? You will be at this course five days a week for six hours a day for the next year."

We spent the rest of our interview trying to convince Rau we were genuine and learning te reo Maori was our life goal.

We said we were there because her course had a great reputation for learning te reo Maori, especially if you wanted to gain a level of fluency.


However, by the end of the interview, we were not convinced we would even be allowed on her course because of our employability. Rau had also made it clear that, if we were accepted on to their programme, they would lose funding.

We were accepted a week later.

She took a financial hit for us to do her programme, and our waka for learning te reo Maori was pushed out into the vast waters. Waters that were uncharted for both of us.

Waters with currents that would mean life and career changes and eventually a master's degree that would research the effects of colonisation on the loss of te reo Maori in my extended whanau. Waters that would also affect the next generation in our whanau.

The first programme, named Taha Maori, was life-changing. We learnt te reo Maori through various methods including Te Ataarangi and every Wednesday morning we went to an Anglican church service which was conducted in both Maori and English. Taha Maori was not total immersion except for the Te Ataarangi classes, but all 16 of us on the course tried to speak Maori as often as we could.

I learnt my pepeha, mihimihi and a basic whaikorero and could string a few sentences together, especially by the end of the second course, Kete Hohonu.

I learnt not only te reo Maori but I learnt to be Maori. Carolyn and I often reflect on that being one of the most enjoyable years of our marriage. We had quality time together.

Suffice to say my earlier mantras such as "time is money" and "do it now and do it quick" were being seriously challenged and changed to "time is people" and "Nga - just chill ... Maori time is a good thing".


One of the course highlights was when the organisers said we should go to a marae for the end of our course and asked if anyone had any suggestions.

Before I knew it my hand went up and I said, "Kia ora Koutou, you fellas could come to our marae if you want. It's easy to find, you just go to the centre of te universe, to a place called Awahou."

To be continued.

- Ngahihi o te ra Bidois is an international leadership speaker, VIP host, author, leader, husband and father. See for more of his story.